Last week Erika Harold, 33, officially announced she'll be challenging incumbent Rodney Davis for the Republican nomination for U.S. Representative in the 13th Congressional District. The newly drawn 13th encompasses all or parts of 14 counties, including parts of Champaign and McLean counties in the northeast, down to Madison County (near St. Louis) in the southwest part of the district.
If Erika Harold prevails she would become the first female African-American Republican congressman in American history. There have been black male Republican congressmen, but never a black woman on the GOP side from any state. (Harold's diverse background also includes Native-American ancestry.) It would be wrong to focus only on race and gender. Harold is a Rock Star candidate who just happens to be a black woman. Still, given the huge problem the GOP is having everywhere with minority outreach, Harold's ability to lead on brand repair cannot be ignored.
Harold may be most famous as Miss American 2003 and Miss Illinois 2002, but she's also a Harvard Law School grad and respected attorney. I've never met Erika Harold, but other lawyers who have worked with her all tell me she's top notch.
Harold was born and raised in Urbana, travelled the world as Miss America, graduated from Harvard, practiced law for awhile in Chicago at a prestigious firm, and now has returned to her hometown to practice law at another prestigious firm and to run for Congress. It's a great American story.
The short interview Harold did with Fox & Friends this week will give you some insight into her impressive potential as a candidate, and as someone who can grow the GOP as no other official on the field in Illinois possibly can. That interview is here.
Harold's candidacy means the Illinois Republican Party can do more than just parrot the same stale talking points about minority outreach. She's breaking the old Illinois Republican Party mold which involved non-white candidates being directed to the back of the bus. Non-white candidates in past election cycles largely served as window dressing and were slated for offices a Republican had no realistic chance of winning.
So Republicans are universally elated right? Well of course not. This is Illinois after all. Rodney Davis' people are especially perturbed that an African-American woman has the nerve to ignore the bosses. Clearly the Rodney Davis crew is scared to death. And they should be.
Instead of welcoming some healthy competition, the knives came out immediately. Within 24 hours of Harold's announcement last week, no-accomplishment white males like State Senators Chapin Rose and Kyle McCarter, and State Representative Adam Brown were publicly bashing Harold's decision to take on a sitting Republican. Why anyone would care what these guys think I have no idea. I stopped taking Chapin Rose seriously when as a state representative back in 2010 he voted against what should have been an historic advance in school reform. Adam Brown is a 20-something kid who made a fool of himself a couple of years ago pandering to geographic resentment (and citizen ignorance) by pushing the ridiculous idea of splitting Illinois into two. And I'm not sure what Kyle McCarter is known for beyond angry outbursts. Also, all three recently voted against serious pension reform (SB 1; Senate vote; House vote). They're the types who after voting against positive change then like to sit around whining about the Democrats and badmouthing our state. All on our dime of course.
If people like Rose, McCarter, and Brown want to change Illinois law from a primary system to a coronation process, as lawmakers they can draft and introduce the bill. Obviously they aren't going to do that. They and some others are just going to try and make it difficult for the best ambassador the Illinois GOP could wish for to get any traction.
This criticism of someone stepping-up in a primary is absurd. If anything, I wish we had three more Erika Harolds to take on non-performers like Rose, McCarter and Brown.
Erika Harold is simply following in the footsteps of other great Republicans like Ronald Reagan who in 1976 challenged Gerald Ford, an incumbent Republican President. Reagan came up short that time, but it was just the beginning of his best political work.
Everyone should also remember that Rodney Davis was never chosen by primary voters in the first place. After the primary last year, long-time GOP congressman Tim Johnson announced his retirement. His Republican replacement then had to be chosen for the November ballot. This was done by the 14 GOP county chairmen from the 13th congressional district meeting behind closed doors. Erika Harold had significant support from within that group, but in the end the old bosses prevailed. Davis had previously been employed by Congressman John Shimkus, as well as by former State GOP Chair Pat Brady. Many will recall Davis was Brady's contribution "washer" while serving as executive director of the state party.
Brady and Davis did a lousy job running the Illinois Republican Party, and by 2012 we were losing nearly every race there was to lose - except for Rodney Davis' race of course. Davis eked out a victory over his Democratic challenger (who had lost three times before to Tim Johnson) by approximately 1,000 votes.
The Democrats are sure to nominate a much stronger candidate this time, and it looks like that will be Ann Callis, the former Madison County Chief Judge.
Callis would be a very formable opponent. In fact Davis and his knuckle-dragging minions better wake up and recognize that Davis is nearly certain to lose to a woman in any case. Better it be in March than in November. Republicans who are serious about keeping that seat and building our party should get behind the better candidate and the one who is far more qualified to serve in Congress.
Erika Harold's announcement came at the perfect time. Just days before, the Illinois Republican Party's State Central Committee (that committee very few of us have any say in choosing), picked Jack Dorgan, a conflicted lobbyist who has regularly aided-and-abetted the Democrats, as our new state chairman to replace Pat Brady. This was yet another pick done completely behind closed doors.
Harold's candidacy provides an excellent vehicle for honest folks to stand-up and say we can do better as Illinois Republicans. I hope good people across the state will rally in support of Harold as she works hard to help us grow our party. This truly has the potential to be an historic race. All eyes in the country are going to be on Illinois' 13th District.
I for one am tired of seeing the hacks and the stooges destroy some of the best Republicans we have in this state. I don't live in the 13th so I won't be able to cast a vote for Erika Harold, but I'm going to keep calling out the thugs when they go after good people.
Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.
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